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The United States will “react quickly and decisively” to further Russian aggression against Ukraine, President Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday, while US officials continue to warn that a Russian invasion could happen any day.
Tensions remain soaring over the situation along Ukraine’s borders, with the United States saying a build – up of Russian forces and equipment along the country’s east, north and south has now reached a point where an attack could begin this week.
On Sunday, Biden and Zelenskyy spoke by telephone for about 50 minutes and “agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence,” according to a reading of the White House call.
The conversation followed Biden’s call on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putinwhere the two men talked for over an hour.
Afterwards, a senior official in the Biden administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the conversation with Putin as “professional and substantial”, but added that “no fundamental change” was made in the tense dynamics that have unfolded over the course of the last month.
Western leaders worry that the window for diplomacy may be closing
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has taken a prominent role in efforts to find a diplomatic way out of the crisis, also spoke at length with Putin on Saturday, according to Macron’s office. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit both Kiev and Moscow next week.
The calls and visits come amid fears that the window to finding a diplomatic way out of the crisis may close as Russia prepares its forces for a possible invasion.
“An invasion, a major military operation, could begin by Russia in Ukraine any day now. That includes this coming week, before the end of the Olympics,” said Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Adviser, in an interview Sunday with CNN. The Olympic Games, held in Beijing, end on February 20.
U.S. officials have cited an acceleration of military build-up, along with the movement of troops closer to the border with Ukraine, as reasons for the growing concerns. About a dozen countries have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine, including the United States, Britain and Germany.
“We have good sources of intelligence, and they tell us that things are now evolving into a kind of crescendo opportunity for Mr. Putin,” said John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. in an interview with Fox News Sunday. “We recognize that the time component here seems to be shrinking, and that gives us all cause for concern.”
Russian forces now surround Ukraine on three sides
Russia has deployed well over 100,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders, including about 30,000 troops stationed in Belarus to northern Ukraine, where the border is only about 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital. In the south, the Russian navy is conducting major exercises in the Black Sea. And to the east, more tanks and military equipment are on their way to Russia’s border in recent days.
Russia has repeatedly characterized concerns about an invasion as Western “hysteria.”
Yuri Ushakov, an adviser to Putin, said the Biden-Putin call on Saturday was “business-like”, but reiterated Putin’s earlier statements that the United States had ignored important Russian demands – including that Ukraine be barred from ever joining NATO, and that NATO withdraws. its forces from Eastern European countries.
Russia has also criticized what it calls a Western “militarization” of Ukraine. The United States and its allies have been sending billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine since 2014, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-mortar radars.
Russian officials have tried to paint a scenario in which these weapons encourage Ukraine to forcibly occupy the areas of the eastern Donbas region that have been held by Russia-backed separatists since 2014. That violence could spark a major conflict, Russia has suggested.
Meanwhile, US officials have warned of the possibility of a Russian “false flag” operation to create a false pretext for an invasion of Russian troops.
Despite the growing urgency of the warnings from US officials, officials and analysts continue to warn that a Russian invasion is still not a security.
“I think Moscow sees this as a long process. And we may be moving from stage one to stage two, and there may be a stage three, but they are not necessarily a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Harun said. Yilmaz. a Ukraine specialist and academic editor at Routledge, in an interview with NPR.
In Ukraine, Zelenskyy has mixed gratitude for US support with the occasional frustration over Washington’s terrible warnings. In a speech to journalists on Saturday, Zelenskyy said the West’s declarations of impending invasion played into the hands of Moscow.
“Our enemies’ best friend is panicking in our country,” Zelenskyy said.